No honour in early exit
It is alarming that there are so many people content with the way the opening match of the 2010 Soccer World Cup went last Friday.
The 1-1 draw against Mexico certainly wasn't a bad result for Bafana Bafana, given where the team has come from over the last months and its lowly world ranking.
But after all the hype and expectation, and the increasingly polished performances in the warm-up, the stuttering showing at Soccer City should not have been greeted with such satisfaction.
Yet the country work up on the weekend all smug and happy, as if content to wallow in mediocrity.
Bafana looked like scared rabbits in the headlights for the first 20 minutes and might have ended their SWC dream virtually before they had even started. It took a goal-saving tackle from Aaron Mokoena, a splendid stop from Itumeleng Khune and a superb offside decision to keep them in the game.
The second half provided glimpses of much more potential. The interchange of passing was outstanding and the team showed they can compete on the big stage.
Siphiwe Tshabalala scored a dream goal, keeping up his knack of scoring superb efforts for the country in contrast to some of his erratic finishing for Kaizer Chiefs.
And there might have been a late winner from Katlego Mphela, who was denied by the width of post.
But Bafana’s defending was desperate and disorganised, a feature of having Mokoena at the heart of the back four. His mistake cost a late goal, but to be fair he made some crucial and timely tackles too, showing much more commitment than many around him. He is too often, however, in the wrong place at the wrong time, seemingly always scrambling to save the situation.
Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira gambled with Lucas Thwala at left-back and quickly realised his folly. Tsepo Masilela came on to show he is a cut above, but the problem is he is forever struggling with niggling injuries and hard to depend on.
That should be the only change for Wednesday’s game against Uruguay.
It was easy to leave Soccer City on Friday elated with the occasion but, at the same time, with the feeling the side could have done better. They got sucked into all the pre-match hype and then when they walked out onto the pitch, they were startled to find themselves in a battle against a determined Mexican side.
It took them time to adjust, to get a foot on the ball and to get used to the pace. It could have been costly.
It would've been better if most South Africans had been a little disappointed so that the team was not left with the belief that all is okay, as long as they don’t lose.
It is important to cultivate a more brutal approach and a winners’ mentality in our football, a proper killer instinct.
How often is it that when a South African side establishes a comfortable lead they spend the rest of the playing time faffing about?
Never do they continue to kick out at the opponent when they are on the floor.
This mentality has to change if Bafana are to become a force again.
At the last two World Cups in which South Africa competed, the squad was all too happy to come home after the first round. When they needed to beat Saudi Arabia in their final group game in France, which looked an easily achievable task, they contrived to draw 2-2 and go home.
In Korea in 2002, Jomo Sono infamously sent on a defender for the final 10 minutes when the team needed to push forward and get an equaliser. But everyone seemed content to lose 3-2 to Spain and head home, almost as if they had had enough.
Let us hope there is an increased hunger this time. Let’s hope people will not be satisfied with, say, three draws and a honorable early exit.
Bafana have shown they have a chance to do much better. They need to want it more.
Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.
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